Encore Michigan

Forever Plaid creates holiday harmony at Farmers Alley

Review December 06, 2015 Marin Heinritz

In his director’s note for Farmers Alley’s current production of Forever Plaid, Larry Raben suggests the  musical revue “is more timely than ever,” because “We all could use a little more harmony in our lives.”

farmersThe intimate space of the theatre is transformed into a light-hearted cabaret where audience members sit at small tables where they’re served coffee and dessert. And the focus is rightfully on the music, as is par for the course, for the plot is mercifully thin and invites the largely baby-boomer audience to be transported by the music through the sweet memories it no doubt invokes.

An amateur 1950s guy group has returned from the dead—killed traumatically when they were slammed by a bus full of “parochial virgins” while en route to see The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Naive, earnest, self-conscious, and eager to please, this foursome is doing the show they never got to do in life. As such, their performance grows bolder and tighter as the night goes on—in step with the percentage of plaid that makes up their tuxes.

Bryan Banville as Sparky with a big, wacky personality; Kyle Jurassic as goofball Smudge, an extraordinary bass; Ian Subsara as countertenor Jinx, sweet and nosebleed-inducing nerves; and Todd Tuchek as the supremely charming though asthmatic frontman Frankie create sharply distinct characters and voices that also contrast and complement each other beautifully. They invite audience participation, delightfully execute effective choreography, and offer some pretty silly physical comedy.

They, and the various songs and styles of music—from crooning to do-wop to 1950s pop classics—are supported and enhanced by the virtuosity of the extraordinary three-piece band. Conductor Marie McColley Kerstetter on piano, Andy Knibloe on percussion, and Kyle Pitcher on bass sit on stage the entire show and righteously play characters in their own right as well as perform nimbly and masterfully, never missing a note or beat. It seems there’s nothing they can’t create together musically.

Also impressive is the elegant simplicity of the set (W. Douglas Blickle), props (CJ Drenth), and especially the lighting design (Jason Frink), that includes highlights such as perfectly-placed marquee-effect lighting and metal colanders hung on the wall that project simulated starlight.

For the right audience, the music and tight performances provide more than enough for an enjoyable evening. However, Frankie provides a little reflective wisdom on the deeper meaning of community, cooperation, and what it means to create harmony together. This speech resonates at the end of this beautifully put-together show because, for the right audience—the one packing the houses and demanding held-over shows before opening night—the cast and crew have indeed strung together “one perfect moment” after another.

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